50th Anniversay of Newton Minow’s “Vast Wasteland” speech

I had planned on doing this post on Monday, but unfortunately, was busy and did not get the opportunity.

There has always been a running joke in my family when someone would complain about the quality of a particular television program, someone would respond with “vast wasteland”.

For those unfamiliar with the origin of the phrase, it dates back to the May 9th, 1961 speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow. In his speech, Minow condemned the quality of television, stating in part:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

If Minow was not correct in 1961, is there any doubt that if he gave the same speech today he would be correct? Is there anything that is worth watching on television, especially on broadcast television, today?

Cross-posted at Virginia Virtucon.

24 Series Finale: Some thoughts.

So, 24 is finally over. It has been a long nine and half years, with eight season and one television movie, but it is finally over.

But, of course, it isn’t. Not really. As long as there some kind of convoluted plot the writers can come up with and they can find someone to write a check to the production crew and the actors, there will be more Jack.

First, I thought I should point out the significance of the show. “Oh, it’s just some dumb show, how is it significant?” you might be asking. Well, Adam over at The Jack Sack had this great quote in his post reviewing the final episodes (which, in part, motivated me to write this post):

His [Jack Bauer’s] story encapsulates a period in this country’s history that, for better or worse, has changed us forever.

I do not think that this point can, or should, be overlooked when discussing the 24 series. I have been watching the show since Day One, Hour One, and its significance has not been lost on me.

For anyone that came remember back that far (and some refuse to), 24 premiered less than two months after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Despite the first season being the product writing, acting, and directing done before the 9/11 attacks, their impact is quite clear even in the first episode. During the pilot, a terrorist (Mandy) blows a commercial jet to cover up the murder and theft of an identification card of a photographer (Martin Belkin) so an assassin can use it an attempt to kill a Presidential candidate (David Palmer). Due to the 9/11 attacks, the explosion of the plane was almost entirely edited out of the episode.

And after 9/11, and as dark as it may sound, people wanted and hoped that there was someone out there like Jack Bauer trying to protect the country. Someone that would do what was necessary to protect the country, even if it meant forfeiting his life, ruining his reputation, or standing up to countless mind-numbing bureaucrats.

That being said, there was one major problem with the final season of 24:

Inconsistent Portray of Characters

“[…] I figure the right thing starts at the beginning of the day, not after you’ve been caught.” –Commander John Crichton (Farscape)

First, let us discuss something called “suspension of disbelief”. Suspension of disbelief is defined by Wiktionary as “[p]eople’s acceptance, for the sake of appreciation of art (including literature and the like), of what they know to be a nonfactual premise of the work of art.”

For example of this, we — the audience — suspend our disbelief that Jack Bauer can survive being shot three times with an assault rifle, most likely chambered in 5.56mm, with a minimal injury of a couple of bruises. We all know that someone that was shot like that would not be getting up and chasing down more bad guys ten minutes later, even if he was wearing a bullet-“proof” vest. We ignore that, usually with a sarcastic comment or two, because the structure, and appreciation, of the story requires that we do so.

However, while we’re willing to accept that Jack Bauer is really The Man of Steel, in addition to such nonsensical stuff such as Chloe’s amazing hacking skillz, and Jack’s ability to maneuver through New York City traffic, it becomes a problem when characters — important ones — act in a manner that is totally inconsistent with prior established acts and morals.

The most glaring example of this during the final season was President Allison Taylor. The previous season established her character as someone that always did the morally right thing. When she had the choice of covering up a murder committed by her daughter — the death of someone that was responsible for the murder of her own son and the attempted murder of her husband — or sending her daughter to prison, she chose to send her daughter to prison.

However, with the majority of the viewers of the final season well aware of her actions last season, this season her character acted in a completely different manner. After the Russian government was responsible for helping to organize a terrorist attack against both the United States and the fictional country of Kamistan (think Iran), which resulted in the death of the President of Kamistan, Omar Hassan, — someone President Taylor considered a friend — Taylor decided to cover this up.

Why? Was it to keep her daughter, or another family member, out of prison?

No, it was preserve an anti-nuclear proliferation treaty with the country of Kamistan. Why was she so willing to throw away everything that she believed in for an anti-nuclear proliferation treaty? Wouldn’t me and the rest of the audience love to know. In the very end, she finally decided to be the good guy. Again, why?

But by this point I probably would not have even cared what her explanation was. By the end of the season, I would have been more satisfied with her being dead than either the Russian Preisdent Yuri Suvarov or Charles Logan.

The same thing can be said about Charles Logan. And, yes, Logan was a complete and utter scumbag through seasons four and five until Jack finally managed to get dirt on him and have him arrested. (Ironically, he would use essentially the same method in the final season). However, when Logan reappeared in season six, he came off as a changed man. And while, yes, it could have been Logan blowing smoke up people’s butts — something he was damn good at — one scene in season six is totally inconsistent with this rationale. After Jack met Logan in season six, there is a scene when Logan quotes  — to himself, while no one else is present — a passage from the Bible. With everything that is said and done by Logan in the sixth season, it presents him as being genuinely repentant about his crimes. Why else show a scene where he is talking to himself that gives that indication otherwise?

However, when Logan popped back up in this final season, he was back to his demeanor from seasons four and five. Why?

Not even Chloe O’Brain could be spared from this despite Mary Lynn Rajskub’s superb portray of Chloe O’Brain in the final two hours. If she had decided to help Jack a couple of hours ago, instead of staging a trap for him, he would have collected the information about the people responsible for the deaths of Omar Hassan and Renee Walker and the body county would be a lot lower. Seriously, when is the last time that Jack has been wrong about this sort of thing?

For another example of this problem, let us go back to last season with Tony Almeida. When we last saw Tony before the last season, everyone thought he had been killed, quite tragically. He was a good guy, one of the very few that Jack had really grown to trust throughout the years. However, it was revealed that Tony was a bad guy. Okay, I could understand that. He was pretty p-oed about the death of wife.

Oh wait, he is actually a good guy who was undercover. Okay, I can understand that (see assumption about Jack’s trust in him).

Oh wait, he’s a bad guy again and he just killed Larry Moss. By this point,  I am totally lost.

Oh wait, maybe he is crazy and half-way a good guy who is out to kill everyone responsible for this wife’s death. See previous comment.

All around, the last two season would be a lot more memorable and good if they did not leave glaring inconsistencies in characters.


I think the biggest problem with the final episode of the series, however, is based on an assumption that a series finale, would, you know, be an actual series finale. Instead, the final episode came off more like a regular season finale instead. And that was exactly the point intended by the writers; they wanted to retain the ability to bring Jack back in the big scene or through some other method.

Frankly, if they wanted it to be a series finale, Jack should have taken the shot and knocked off both Russian President Suvarov and Charles Logan. And whether Jack ended up dead by the end of the episode or not, justice would have been done. Instead, Logan is “alive” with some serious brain damage and Suvarov is probably on his way back to the Rodina (Motherland).

More on that now-awful show known as 24.

NOTE: This post contains spoilers from the most recent episode of 24, if you have not seen it, then you may not want to read this post. Or bother watching the episode for that matter…

Mike over at The Write Side of My Brian wonders if 24 is jumping the shark, but thinks this season is still better than last year’s.

The following is a slightly edited version of a comment I posted on The Write Side of My Brian:

I know a lot of people didn’t like season 6, but I personally enjoyed it until the Chinese threat emerged. And from I remember reading, the only reason that the Chinese popped up was because the writers and producers couldn’t figure anything else to do with Abu Fayed; sound familiar with what they just did with Tony?

I personally thought season four had the most absurd plot. Bad guy blows up train to get device to control nuclear reactors across the country, kidnaps SecDef to execute live on the internet as to generate internet traffic so he can breach the nuclear plants’ firewalls, but the whole point of causing nuclear meltdowns was to get Air Force One in the air so he could shot it down with a stolen F-117A stealth fighter and steal the nuclear suitcase, and a nuclear bomb separately, strap the bomb to a missile, and launch it at Los Angeles. Uh…dude, seriously, read what Rommel had to say about complicated and stupid plans.

Again, sound familiar with what they’re doing with Tony? Tony joins a mercenary group, agrees to help Bill Buchanan bring the group down, but he’s actually playing both sides and wants to steal biological weapon from bad guy #2 for whatever purposes he has. And he managed to plan all this out ahead of time?

The one thing that has annoyed me more and more is the gimmicky and cheap way they keep killing off characters. When Teri Bauer died in season one, it actually meant something. I stood staring at the television for like five minutes with my mouth slack-jawed. When George Mason died in season two, you actually felt something for the death of the character.

But now? “Oh, let’s kill someone off to shock the audience and since we have no other way to advance the plot.” Look what happened to David Palmer and Michelle Dessler during season five. The same can be said about Curtis Manning and Milo Pressman during season six, and now with Bill Buchanan and Larry Moss this season. It’s disgusting the way the writers and producers treat the characters, and by extension, the fans that have invested years of their time watching how the characters develop on the show.

I’ve been watching this show since Day One, Hour One and I have no desire to continue watching it at this point.

I cannot think of words to describe how much I hate 24 now…

I’m serious. That episode was so cheap. That’s the only way I can think of describing it.

I wonder if the rest of people that have been watching the show from Day One, Hour One are as p-oed right now as I am. I wanted to punch the television after seeing the last minute of that episode. I’ve already deleted the episode from my DVR and removed the season subscription that was programmed into the DVR.

Now, if only there was some way to remove the memory of this season from my mind so it stops contaminating the memory of the previous seasons…

So, what did I think of the premieres of Prison Break and The Shield?


That’s right, meh.

What’s there to say about Prison Break?

One character was killed (James Whistler), one character appeared to be killed in the first hour yet was shown to be in a secret prison in the second hour (Gretchen Morgan).

Oh yeah, they also brought back a character (Sara Tancredi) who was killed off last season and whom producers said was really dead and wasn’t going to come back. Tancedi was, of course, killed off following a contract dispute between FOX and her portrayer Sarah Wayne Callies, whom had just had her first child.

Good one producers; way to screw with your viewers.

Not to mention, I saw this coming when I saw the episode where Tancredi was originally killed off.

And then there’s the plot holes.

How the heck does a trained driver for “The Company” not notice that there is a Toyota SUV following him around everywhere he goes?

How do the dozen or so security guards at this guy’s property not notice the two morons in the same SUV sitting across the street watching the house for hours on end?

Hell, “The Company” is supposed to be so powerful and wealthy; but damn, do they have trouble finding competent people to work for them!

The Shield‘s premiere was pretty much the same as usual. Mind you, that is the standard operating procedure for season premieres for The Shield (season one being the exception to the rule).

The season usually starts kinda slow and builds until there’s something really dramatic at the end of the season (e.g., Money Train heist at the end of season two, the Strike Team breaking up at the end of season three, Lem’s death at the end of season five, etc.)

However, what’s the common definition of insanity? “Doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results”?

Apparently no one ever told this to Vic Mackey.

This time he’s trying to turn the Armenian Mob against the Mexican Mob.

How many times has he tried to turn one gang against another, and all hell has broken loose?

And why did the producers have to bring that annoying bum Billings back? He’s probably the most annoying and worst character on the show. Let Dutch fly solo or pair him up with Danny (no pun intended).

Oh yeah, and get rid of Tina. She’s as annoying as Billings.

*Sigh*, there goes another of my favorite television shows…

First, Stargate SG-1 got the ax in 2007 — while in the middle of a major storyline — after ten seasons . It managed to survive through two made-for-DVD movies.

And now Stargate Atlantis has been shown the door with plans for a television movie to wrap-up the cliffhanger from this final season (Gateworld’s continuing coverage).

And as if it wasn’t bad enough that this is the last season of Battlestar Galactica, they had to cancel Stargate Atlantis too!

To make matters worst, the finale season of The Shield will premiere on September 2nd.

Can’t have nothin’.

As they say: All Good Things…